Coping Strategies for Entertainers

Written April 22, 2018

On April 20th the music world lost one of its most influential artists. Tim Bergling, known as Avicii, passed away in Oman, Sweden. Avicii is credited with significantly pushing forward mainstream electronic dance music (EDM), and is a big reason why current DJs are having a great deal of success both on the radio and performing at live shows.

While the specifics of his death are not publicly known yet, Avicii had struggled significantly in his personal life in recent years. The DJ reported getting consumed with drinking, touring, and the party-lifestyle that often accompanies a life as an entertainer. His health problems led to having multiple surgeries over the years, causing him to cancel several shows on tour.

I won’t speculate about the state of Tim Bergling’s mental health and how it may or may not have been related to his death. But Avicii passing away has led to countless EDM DJs sharing their stories, memories, and inspirational stories they have about him. Many described him as having an aura, smile, and energy that made others happy and peaceful. Bergling considered making music his therapy, and performing live was his escape. Having outlets to let go of stress and to have fun is healthy and natural, but while making music was his passion, the lifestyle is what contributed to his anxiety and substance use. Looking for comfort in the same place that brings you pain is an often-used but rarely successful strategy. 

In the past year, Music Minds Matter aimed to provide a helping ear to entertainers in the music industry struggling with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse issues. After Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington committed suicide last year, his family started a suicide-awareness organization for musicians. Ironically, the pain and struggle entertainers feel internally is often what makes them great artists. Those who pour their hearts out into their music have the opportunity to share their stories with their fans, to essentially write an open diary. But then the show ends. The lights go out. The crowd goes home. And the music stops.

Then what?

Supporting a musician from a mental health standpoint would be difficult logistically. The constant traveling, the exposure to drugs and alcohol, and the stress of live performances and having your work critiqued and criticized publicly raises big challenges. I would start, like anything else, with trying to develop mental coping skills.

  • Compartmentalize. Musicians have lives too. They have families, friends, interests, and other hobbies. The ability to compartmentalize would allow the individual to separate those aspects of their lives so that negative events in one part wouldn’t bleed into others. Maybe the DJ releases a song that is poorly reviewed. That shouldn’t influence their personal, social, and family life.

  • Mindfulness. The ability to be in the present moment. When you’re performing, perform. When you’re at home and with your family, focus and pay attention to the people you’re with. When it’s time to work, work. When it’s time to relax, relax. Being in the present moment alleviates anxiety and worry while also improving gratitude.

  • Proactive Self-Help Strategies. Call it what it is. The music industry has its challenges. Many artists suffer from depression and anxiety. So rather than having a “that won’t happen to me” mentality, acknowledge the inevitable difficulties and develop a self-help strategy to prevent mental health problems. Seeing a counselor, developing a support system that promotes healthy decision making, and prioritizing balance are pro-active measures all artists can take.

  • One for them, One for me. Finding a balance that allows you to be productive, efficient, and responsible, while also maintaining your mental health and overall well-being by balancing what you have to do with what you want to do. Some artists are tied to record labels that require them to release a certain type and amount of songs. Balancing what’s professionally required and what’s personally desired can alleviate stress and make the musician feel in control. Do one for them (record label, agent, fans), and one for me. 

As the music world mourns the loss of Avicii, it’s another opportunity to shed a light on the battles with mental health that individuals face. Musicians, athletes, actors, television personalities – these are people. Their skill and hard work entertains millions and allows people around the world to escape their own life and their own struggles. But at what cost?